When and Where to visit Syria
Cycling in Syria is possible all year round but spring and autumn are the most popular times to explore the country with mild temperatures and sunny days.
Summer cycling means dawn starts and long afternoon naps to avoid the worst of the heat. Desert trips will be almost impossible on a bicycle during the hottest part of the year, with very little shade to take refuge in and long stretches between water stops. Seaside resorts are likely to be packed with Arabs escaping from the heat of their home countries.
Winter bicycle tourists need to come prepared for rainy days and nighttime temperatures below freezing in many parts of the country. If you’re willing to pack rain gear and a good sleeping bag, your reward will be feeling like the country is yours alone to explore. In the off season, it’s possible to have even Palmyra – Syria’s top tourist attraction – almost entirely to yourself. Hotel prices drop accordingly aside from the few days around Eid when people cross the country to visit relatives and Turks flood into Syria for cross-border shopping expeditions.
The country itself is reasonably small and a comprehensive tour of Syria including the desert and a route along the Euphrates river could be done in less than a month. Many cyclists cut this down a bit by taking a bus from Damascus to Palmyra and then returning to the saddle for the rest of the desert journey towards Deir-ez-Zor. The distance from the Turkish border to Jordan isn’t huge and could be covered in a week if you just wanted to go straight through but this would require a fair amount of motorway cycling. Using the back roads and taking detours to sights like Apamea and Crac des Chevaliers can easily extend your time to two weeks. If time is limited, consider using organised tours from bases like Aleppo or Hama to see the main attractions.
Classic routes include:
- Entering from Turkey through the Bab-al-Hawa or Killis crossing. If coming from Killis, take the back roads through Cyrrhus and Saint Simeon towards Aleppo. Two days in Aleppo to see the sights, then out via Idlib towards the Dead Cities and Apamea. Stop in Hama to see the water wheels and rest up before heading out to Crac des Chevaliers and south to Damascus. It’s possible here to skip parts of the motorway, hugging back roads close to the Lebanese border. If not travelling in winter, you can go to the ancient mountain town of Malula where Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, is still spoken. It’s about 60km north of Damascus. After a few days in the capital, continue south to Jordan, stopping at Bosra to see the impressive and well preserved ampitheatre.
- Start as above but after leaving Aleppo head towards the seaside towns of Latakia and Tartus, possibly dipping inland to see Crac des Chevaliers. Continue south to Lebanon and then across the mountains to Damascus. If planning this, get a double-entry visa for Syria in advance or be prepared to wait to have one issued at the border when you re-enter from Lebanon. You can get a visa for Lebanon at the border.
- Another option is to come south via Aleppo, Apamea and the Dead Cities to Hama, then across to Palmyra and south to Damascus and Jordan. In this case, a day tour by taxi or bus from Hama can take you to Crac des Chevaliers.